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Sharing Surplus: An Ethic of Care

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A Call to Practice an Ethic of Care by Sharing Surplus

Bo Lind Knudsen
(Image by Bo Lind Knudsen)

Given the institutions that today´s dominant economic science and today´s prevailing common sense assume, sustainable good jobs for everybody, paid for by the wage funds created by the sale of products the employees contribute to making, will never happen. There will never come a day when there are enough employers finding it profitable to hire workers and pay them well to create sustainable good jobs for everyone who needs one.1

Consequently, in tomorrow´s functional world now being built from materials available in today´s dysfunctional world –speaking in terms of the flows of income identified by Adam Smith– satisfying basic needs and freeing people to pursue Maslow´s higher needs2 can only be completed (it can be taken part way by salaries paid from wage funds) by relying on transfers of surplus, typically from the non-wage flows of income Smith called profits and rents. Property income.

Surplus income, as distinct from most labour income, is still today typically profits and rents. Such income is a typical location where surplus, defined as discretionary income eligible to be transferred from where it is not needed to where it is needed, is often found. Whether or not some part of profit or rent is surplus, and how to use it, are matters for ethical deliberation.3 The deliberation has just begun, and is far from ending, when a given sum is classified as profit or rent. But since mere mortals cannot stand so much uncertainty and hard thinking, human cultures cut it short by practicing simple authoritative customs –determining for example which kin get which piece of meat when a hunter kills a deer. Modern societies (Weber´s Gesellschaften), organized principally by contracts and property rights,4 are customary too, but customary in a different way. They are basically organized by the property and contract rights (the institutional frame) that made possible Smith´s neat three-part division of income flows into wages, profits, and rents.

One can add to profits and rents twenty first century sources of surplus that Smith in the eighteenth century did not think of. One is the astronomical surpluses paid to powerful executives in a position to inflate their own compensation packages5. Another source is the small surpluses of middle- class people who retire on good pensions. There are many more, even though, as anyone who has reviewed her or his personal or family budget finds, there are no cut and dried simple rules defining what is and is not surplus available to be shared.

Taking a larger view, leaving the sphere of the science Smith founded altogether, one can consider all the ways a human being depends on other human beings (and on nature) for need-satisfaction, starting with the newborn´s first urge to suckle its mother´s milk.

It follows from Smith´s worldview that some people lose. They have no profits or rent because they own no income-producing property. They earn no wages because nobody hires them. In addition, mini businesses started with mini credits are never sufficient to turn all losers into winners because of lack of customers. And so on.6 The existence of losers that is a consequence of basic social structure has been going on for so long that it has come to be considered natural.

I find it morally intolerable not to aim for the inclusion of everybody in the benefits of social cooperation by means of sustainable good jobs for everybody or in some other way. It hardens hearts and poisons minds to take it for granted as a fact that there will be losers in the game of life. It implies not caring. It legitimates not caring as a moral norm.

That in life some win, and some lose was and is a “fact” unknown to those indigenous peoples whose social structures were and are organized by kinship7. It is a “fact” that was unknown in matristic societies before the rise of patriarchy.8 It was a “fact” that temporarily disappeared in Sweden and in Austria after World War II until globalization demoted social democracy from the status of humanity´s future to the status of a holding action slowing down the dismantling of yesterday´s welfare state in order to lower wages and taxes to levels compatible with being competitive in global markets.9

That some must lose is a “fact” created by the constitutive rules of market society, summarized by Darcia Narvaez as “competitive detachment”10 and by André Orléan as séparation marchande.11

Too many economists treat high growth, low inflation, and low unemployment as three measures of economic success, not always compatible with each other, so that it is necessary to accept less of one to get more of another. Too many economists settle for policies that deliberately create some unemployment because full employment would be inflationary, and because it would discourage growth by raising wages hence weakening the inducement to invest.

It might also be said that all economists teach that it is a fact that there are and must be losers in life, because any scholar who does not accept what Joseph Schumpeter called the institutional frame of economics –within which it can never be the case that there are enough employers who find it profitable to offer everybody who needs it steady employment at good wages-– is by definition not an economist.

This way of seeing the matter would place dissidents who study economics as critics more than as believers outside the camp of the economists. As long as we talk this way, they would not be true economists at all, because true economists believe and endorse the concepts that define their discipline. But we do not need to talk this way all the time. “Economist” would be far from being the only word that it is convenient to use in different senses in different contexts.

Sharing surplus, defined as moving resources from where they are not needed to where they are needed, is not a new idea. For Saint Thomas Aquinas writing in the thirteenth century –and echoed today by the teachings of Catholic and mainline Protestant churches—whatever you or I may own does not belong only to ourselves. It also belongs to whomever we are able to help with our surplus.12 Nor is it a forgotten idea. As we speak millions of people around the world are sharing –sharing money, time, expertise, food, clothing, and whatever they have and can spare—to help others.13 Governments and other large organizations also devote themselves to meeting needs because they are needs. Today, in 2021, I want to suggest that calling for renewed emphasis on this old and well-remembered idea has new meanings in the light of at least five contemporary game-changers:

Humankind´s number one existential challenge today is environmental, not social. If our species fails to reinvent itself to adapt to physical reality, the game will be over.
But environment and social justice cannot be separated, while neither can be separated from the systemic imperatives implied by the dynamic of accumulation that moves the system. The self-interest of powerful people who want to make money by making profitable investments, even when those same investments make doomsday more certain and more proximate, does not fully explain why solemn agreements to respect mother nature shrivel into dead letters time and time again. People want jobs. People need jobs. The system needs investments to keep going, while its basic structure implies a chronic tendency for investments (and jobs) to be too few.14

Existential crises call for objective reasoning and cooperation, and frequently crises call for self-sacrifice for the sake of the common good. But today, as in the 1930s, existential crises coincide with rising tides of unreasoning anger, shameless liars and manipulators, mass desperation, violence, and political insanity. So far, the recent political insanity that most threatens humanity´s future is in the United States. Mass desperation surfaces in behaviour like that of the economic migrants who crowd into leaky boats to cross illegally from North Africa to Italy, and in the behaviour of economic migrants who walk on foot from Honduras to the Mexico-United States border.

We have –or at least I would propose for discussion the thesis that we have—reached a point in history where nothing would better serve the objective interests of the rich than an end to poverty. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, both epidemiologists, have assembled statistical data in support of a related thesis: high income people benefit from living in societies where wealth is relatively equally shared when such societies are compared to others where the gaps between haves and have-nots are extreme.15 How to end poverty, in one form or another, is regularly at the top of the agenda of the meetings of the World Social Forum and those of World Economic Forum. Nevertheless, the dynamics of the system in place continue to call for government policies (like tax exemptions and subsidies …etc.) guaranteeing high profits that exacerbate inequality, in order to attract capital and in order to avoid capital flight. Systemic imperatives often call for keeping wages low (and often for more violent forms of repression of labour) in order to keep the selling price of exports competitive in global markets.16 In the past it has often been a no-brainer to conclude that the system favours the rich and oppresses the poor. Getting used to the idea that at this point in history the apparent winners are in the last analysis losers too, requires escaping from mental models that fitted the past better than they fit the present. What the dynamics of competitive capital accumulation tend to force entrepreneurs and governments to do –we just saw an example in point two above, regarding environment vs. profits and jobs– does not equal what it is objectively in anybody´s best interest to do. This reflection leads to seeing educational and organizational paths to change that avoid drawing a certain common pessimistic conclusion. That pessimistic conclusion is: A modification of the system fundamental enough to make sustainable dignified livelihoods for all possible, and to make escaping ecological catastrophe possible, could only be achieved by violent revolutions; but violent revolutions with such aims are no longer possible; and if they were possible they would not be desirable.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted fundamental problems. A post-Covid-19 world may be a world where greater awareness of fundamental problems catalyses greater ability to solve them. One has already been mentioned. It is the insecurity of the rich caused by the continued existence of the poor, manifest for examples in criminal violence and in the spread of contagious diseases. A second is the insecurity of the poor, manifested in lack of access to medical care and lack of resources to fall back on when lockdowns stop normal economic activity. A third is a central issue for the future: Will the new technologies that multiply productivity beyond anything known in the past17 be the intellectual property of a few billionaires, entitled by law to live in luxury while ignoring the vital needs of everyone else? Or will the benefits of what used to be called ““universal labour” (advances in knowledge) be truly universal? These questions have been brought to a head by the conflict between the legal right of pharmaceutical companies to withhold vaccines from those who cannot pay, and their moral duty to use their surplus to help those in need. A fourth fundamental problem has been caused by the bogus neoliberal twin concepts of economic efficiency and free trade. When Covid-19 struck, the peoples of the world discovered to their dismay that they had lost self-sufficiency and resilience. “Efficiency” and “free trade” had made virtually every country in the world dependent on China for antibiotics, and on a few suppliers for computer chips. And so on. To meet many vital needs, the peoples of the world depended on long and complex supply chains over which they had no control. Covid-19 made it a priority to study the ways of life of indigenous ancestors who knew how to live on the land where they were located, and who were bonded one with another in kinship groups jointly responsible for each other´s welfare.18

Where do we go from here?

.

1 This claim is supported by detailed analysis and evidence in Howard Richards with Gavin Andersson, Economic Theory and Community Development. Lake Oswego OR: Dignity Press, 2021. For analysis see especially chapters three and four; for an empirical illustration chapter five. The claim is generally in accord with schools of thought that see a chronic insufficiency of good employment opportunities as a permanent consequence of the basic structure of the system, and not only as a temporary consequence of, e.g. being in a downturn of the business cycle, adjusting to new technologies, governments and unions that are not business-friendly, underdevelopment, or exogenous shocks. E.g. Harry Magdoff, and Paul Sweezy, The Deepening Crisis of US Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969.

2 While denying or modifying the notion that higher needs must await the satisfaction of lower needs, one can improve on economics considering Maslow´s short list of what human needs are: physiological, safety, belongness and love, esteem (dignity), self-actualization and self-transcendence. A.H. Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, Volume 50 (1943) pp., 370-396.

3 See Dave Elder-Vass, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

4 The classic account of how modern contract and property law grew out of earlier social forms in Europe is Sir Henry Maine´s Ancient Law. London: John Murray, 1861. For an account of how European institutions became global institutions see Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. London: Zed Books, 1998.

5 For examples see Andrew Sayer. Why We Can´t Afford the Rich. Bristol: Policy Press, 2015.

6 Kate Philip, Markets on the Margins: Mineworkers, Job Creation, & Enterprise Development. Woodbridge, United Kingdom: James Curry, 2018.

7 Wahinke Topa and Darcia Narvaez, Restoring the Kinship Worldview. Berkeley CA: North Atlantic Books, 2022.

8 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

9 Howard Richards with the assistance of Gavin Andersson, Economic Theory and Community Development. Lake Oswego OR: Dignity Press, 2021. Chapter Seven. Another way of looking at social democracy´s decline is to say that it proved to be incompatible with the neo-roman juridical framework that Max Weber identified in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft as a prerequisite for capitalism. Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, The Dilemmas of Social Democracies. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. That framework established neo-Roman property rights and enforceable contracts. (Pacta sunt servanda). Globalization itself can be seen as made possible by the same basic legal principles, also called the same basic social structures, enforced on a global scale Howard Richards with David Faubion, Understanding the Global Economy. Santa Barbara CA: Peace Education Books, 2004. A new edition (2021) is available from Akhia Andersson.

10 https://sites.nd.edu/darcianarvaez/

11 André Orléan, L´Empire de la valeur: refonder l’économie. Paris: Seuil, 2011.

12 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. II II, Question 32, Article V, reply to second objection. (various editions)

13 People who practice caring and sharing report that they experience higher levels of happiness and health. See David Schroeder and William Graziano (editors), The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial Behaviour. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015; David Servan-Schreiber, Anticancer: A New Way of Life. New York: Viking, 2008.

14 “The weakness of the inducement to invest has been at all times the key to the economic problem.” John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. London: Macmillan, 1936 pp. 347-48.

15 Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level. London: Allen Lane, 2009.

16 Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital. London: Verso, 2003.

17 Peter Diamandis and Stephen Kotler, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012

18 Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Practices. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

Source: Pressenza

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Editorials

A Finger In The Dam

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Try to imagine a world today unaffected by ever-increasing climate change, a world no longer on the precipice of disaster so large that our way of life and that of the entire planet may be terminated by the next decade.

What if policies had been instituted to mitigate climate change and reduce its overall effect on the environment two decades ago. Where would we be today?  The many severe hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, floods and drought, the astronomical financial burden on our national budget and damage to the economy, all could have been arrested and would continue to be reversed, and we as a the nation would have moved towards sustainable, renewable, low cost energy creating millions of jobs in the process.  The involvement of our government in the Middle East, and in all foreign affairs for that matter, would certainly have been severed from oil dependency and foreign policies freed from a compromise of principle in pursuit of our energy interests, unsavory deals with the devil, abroad and at home, a loss of control.

By Michael Caporale

In November 2000, you might not have wondered about such things as the fate of the Gore v. Bush election dangled on the thin thread of Floridian chad and the political relationship between Jeb Bush and the Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who certified Bush as the winner.  Even before the election, Gore was a climate activist, but then he was “ahead of his time,” which simply put means that you and I and the rest of the nation had other concerns and were divided by the many climate deniers in the right-wing media, the political puppets of the energy industry and their “loner donors” who erected a wall of confusion and doubt challenging the science and data of what was then referred to as “global warming.”  But Gore knew better.  Oh, you might say he did not say enough.  He did not fight enough. But wisdom is the better part of valor and it’s safe to assume that even then, he and his advisors knew that this would be a hill to die on.  First item on his agenda was winning.  It was understood that global warming was not a winning issue.

So now, we find ourselves today at the eleventh hour, the very last possibility to stop global warming and begin the reversal process on climate change, a reality but for one man a so-called Democrat, the Senator who opposes climate mitigation legislation. It’s no secret that Joe Manchin represents West Virginia.  Ostensibly he’s protecting a few West Virginia jobs and the economy of the state, but more so, he’s the coal industry’s finger in the dam holding back meaningful change that will allow our society to endure, that we may continue to enjoy the liberties we have all sacrificed for and pay them forward to succeeding generations.

It’s not like West Virginians don’t suffer along with the rest of us.  River floods have decimated entire communities.  The work force employed by the coal industry is only 3%.  Their infrastructure is crumbling.  Education in West Virginia is vastly in need of improvement.  Yet polls and interviews reveal that West Virginians just can’t let go of “coal,” such is their identity so entwined with it. They perceive that any other form of energy is an attack on their sacred tradition, their heritage and their future.  Truth is, it’s just not so.  But there you have it.  The Democratic Senator who represents their state has the equivalent of veto power in a Senate divided 50/50 and continually rattles that saber to obstruct meaningful and effective climate legislation. It is an affront to democracy that this one man, heavily invested in coal energy, can decide the fate of the nation and the planet for his own political and financial interests.  He is a coward.

Current climate policy is based on the concept of attaining Net Zero.  For example, even today I saw an ad for Cisco wherein they touted that they would achieve net zero by 2040, as if this was some kind of meritorious goal.  Poppycock!  How utterly pathetic and hopelessly deceiving when set upon a complacent and largely ignorant public, too busy fighting the reality of rebuilding after a disaster than to understand the finer points of policy speak

Net Zero is a term coined in climate policy negotiations that essentially means the same as the phrase “zero sum game.”  In a net zero equation, as in a zero sum game, losses are balanced against gains to arrive at zero.  The total of +1 and -1 = 0.  Theoretically, as in the game, there are no winners, but again there are no losers as well. However, in the world of climate change net zero means a balancing act that will not affect any change and it allows polluters to continue to pollute in an amount equal to mitigation forces, therefore “net zero.”  In that mathematical climate offset, we are all losers. Only actual zero will stop climate change and reverse the process.  Burning coal to produce energy causes pollution. It will always cause pollution.   “Clean coal” is not clean.  It’s like saying an “honest thief” or a “moral pedophile.”  It’s an oxymoron.  It’s a polluter. Joe Manchin has written the final act assuring that we will be killing ourselves and our children to satisfy his goals.

We can’t fix this problem totally today, but through a concerted effort it can be ameliorated in the next election if we act as we are one.  To assure climate mitigation, we must make Joe Manchin irrelevant.  In short Democrats need to pick up a minimum of two seats and stack the Senate 52/48.  The focus of the party should be to target and work towards the best opportunities in that regard, put all of their energy behind it and then cut Manchin loose. He has no value to the nation as a whole in this regard. Set him float in his own flood waters.  Let him keep his finger in the dam.  Blow up the dam.

 

 

 

 

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Editorials

The Green Jobs Advantage: How Climate-friendly Investments Are Better Job Creators

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This paper compares job creation per dollar from various types of green investments vs. unsustainable investments. It also explores how to promote good jobs that have fair wages, job security, opportunities for career growth, safe working conditions, and are accessible for all.

Source: World Resource Institute

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of jobs to be lost globally and has exacerbated inequality. At the same time, addressing climate change is an urgent challenge. Too many governments have funneled money to unsustainable sectors as part of their COVID-19 recovery efforts even though this is not the best job creator and will exacerbate climate change.

This analysis of studies from around the world finds that green investments generally create more jobs per US$1 million than unsustainable investments. It compares near-term job creation effects from clean energy vs. fossil fuels, public transportation vs. roads, electric vehicles vs. internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions vs. oil and gas production.

For example, on average:

  • Investing in solar PV creates 1.5 times as many jobs as fossil fuels per $1 million.
  • Building efficiency creates 2.8 times as many jobs as fossil fuels per $1 million.
  • Mass transit creates 1.4 times as many jobs as road construction per $1 million.
  • Ecosystem restoration creates 3.7 times as many jobs as oil & gas production per $1 million.

The paper also explores job quality in green sectors. In developing countries, green jobs can offer good wages when they are formal, but too many are informal and temporary, limiting access to work security, safety and social protections. In developed countries, new green jobs can provide avenues to the middle class, but may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.

Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.

This paper is jointly published by WRI, the International Trade Union Confederation, and New Climate Economy.

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Editorials

Behind the Lofty SDGs the Reality is People Don’t Trust Governments to Act

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Behind the Lofty SDGs the Reality is People Don’t Trust Governments to Act

By Andrew Cave, Driving Change

Michael Sani is a fervent believer in people casting transformative power with their votes. As chief executive of Bite the Ballot, a program supporting the U.K. Cabinet Office to increase voter registration, he partnered with Starbucks to create “DeCafe” debates, re-invigorating the spirit of the 17th Century coffee shop to inspire participation in elections.

 

The social entrepreneur later took this initiative to France and Colombia to support political engagement in elections and saw its methodology inspire the African Prisons Project, which held events in prisons with key social justice stakeholders.

 

Now CEO of Play Verto, which he says takes a “holistic approach” to accelerating and magnifying social impact through data-led decision-making, Sani’s new target is nothing less than generating the people power to help change the world.

 

The British-born, Egypt-based former business studies teacher recently unveiled The People’s Report, a global poll enabling 17,000 people speaking 43 different languages on the front lines of climate change to submit de-facto annual returns on how it is affecting their daily lives. The aim is for this exercise to act as a flash scorecard on progress toward achieving the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

 

Emanating from discussions in 2019 with Catalyst 2030, a social entrepreneurship policy initiative, and run on a shoestring with a tiny staff reliant on volunteers and funded by friends and supporters, The People’s Report also wants its data to be used to formulate future policies.

 

“Social entrepreneurs want to collaborate in order to achieve the SDGs” says Sani, “but there are many different social entrepreneurs working towards the SDGs in silos across the different thematic areas.

 

“They have the same goals, but collaboration is hard to come by and what often happens is that there’s not enough funding or resources and you end up competing against those you should be working with because of the way the ecosystem has been put together.

 

“A lot of social entrepreneurs are therefore just surviving, rather than thriving, and that’s the piece of the jigsaw that most fascinates me: how do we shift the sector from survive mode and thrive.”

 

A collaboration between Catalyst 2030, the Social Progress Imperative and Play Verto, The People’s Report’s aim is to measure the reality of peoples’ lives in relation to the SDGs. Eleven questions were posed to ordinary people accessed through the partners’ networks. Eleven questions were posed to ordinary people accessed through the networks of Catalyst 2030 and other initiatives including the Social Progress Index.

 

 

 

 

They were answered by people on the world’s front lines: from the townships of South Africa, sex workers in India, Syrians in refugee camps, truck drivers in Australia, rose growers in Bogota, and office workers in Japan.

 

The inaugural survey found nearly two-thirds of respondents stating that they are experiencing the direct effects of climate change in their daily lives. Some 50% said they cannot trust their governmental leaders to address the issue. Asked whether they would choose to raise children in their communities in the current worsening environment, 34% of respondents replied in the negative.

 

The poll found that 34% of respondents under the age of 51 reported worsening mental health since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread evidence that they are living in the climate emergency, with 79% of respondents in the Indian subcontinent and 63% overall saying they had personally witnessed biodiversity loss.

 

The reality of hunger was also evident, with Africa (32%) and the Indian subcontinent (24%) reporting the highest levels, but 15% of North Americans and 14% of Europeans also saying they go to bed hungry. The impact of COVID-19 was clearly seen as 43% of respondents saying they had lost their income.

 

Lack of trust in governments emerged as a real problem, with 57% citing this in the Middle East and North Africa and one-third of all respondents stating that different views were not respected in their communities.

 

Finally, the survey identified a genuine fear for the future, with 42% of people in the Middle East and North Africa expressing little confidence in the future.

 

Sani and his partners are now planning much bigger Peoples Reports over the remaining eight years until the UN’s deadline. “The call to arms was ‘What’s your story?’” he says.

 

“We wanted to get the realities of as many people as possible at a particular point in time, with the goal of taking that back to the UN. It’s not about pointing out where their data is wrong and our data is right, but just to offer up our ideas so we can all work together with fresh and vivid information.

 

“We’ve got nine years to achieve the SDGs and this is the state of our realities according to the people facing them. We hope it can help form a unified voice to help better shape strategies based on need and a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not.

 

“If we’re going to set forth such an ambitious plan as achieving the SDGs, we really need to have our finger on the pulse. Now we have the data to take this forward.”

Source: Driving Change

Andrew Cave

Andrew Cave is a British business journalist who has written for The Daily Telegraph for 24 years in London and New York, rising to be Associate City Editor before switching to freelance writing in 2005. He also penned columns for Forbes Magazine for six years and has written five books on leadership and management.

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Mobilized TV

Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV  takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.

Produced by Steven Jay and hosted by Jeff Van Treese.

Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV  premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:

Fridays 9:30 PM Eastern (USA/Canada)

Saturdays; 6:30 PM (Eastern USA/Canada)

Sundays: 8:30 AM Eastern (USA/Canada)

October 15, 16, 27
Many communities of native Americans have been subject to irreparable harm, and now there are some who are trying to indoctrinate them into their form of religion. We take a deep dive into conversation with Lakota Sioux Tribeswoman, Davidica Little Spotted Horse as she brings us up to speed of issues that should concern us all.

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